From Piranha II through The Abyss to Titanic, James Cameron has demonstrated his affinity for the life aquatic. Hollywood’s King of the World adds depth, literally, to his immersion with a new 47-minute 3-D IMAX nature doc, Aliens of the Deep. Lurid title notwithstanding, this underwater exploration—organized by Cameron and some two and a half years in the making—is a Disney co-pro that deploys canned scientific explanations and a cast of perky marine biologists to establish the requisite sense of theme park awe.
Cameron himself plays the Director, who, no laid-back Steve Zissou, orchestrates a fleet of four submersibles at something like two miles below the surface. “Here’s the deal,” he barks, breaking the surface of humanoid blandness. And it is a deal: De Niro-voiced sharks, CGI pilot fish, and even the sissified little SpongeBob have nothing on the bizarre, apparently nameless creatures that Cameron and his crew discover—starting with a fabulously 3-D-friendly cellophane scarf that swims past the submersible porthole. Perhaps the most amazing sight in this often thrilling almost-feelie, which takes as its paradoxical subject the condition of life without light, is the incredible swarm of blind albino shrimps clustered around the smoking “chimneys” formed by volcanic eruptions from beneath the ocean floor. They’re not exactly cute, although Disney will be battling Pixar for rights to the miraculously iridescent, big-eyed, Bambi-eared octopus-ish whatsit that glows prettily for the camera and vanishes back into the deep.